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‘Defended Rafale deal on merit’: Former IAF chief Dhanoa on Supreme Court verdict

When the Indian Air Force (IAF) defended the Rafale deal then it was criticised for wading into politics, air chief marshal (retd) BS Dhanoa said on Thursday after the Supreme Court verdict on the purchase of the fighter jets.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed a review petition that sought an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the alleged irregularities in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal with French planemaker Dassault Aviation.

“The price-negotiations were done by the then deputy chief who is now the Chief of Air Staff. We were absolutely sure the deal was above board,” Dhanoa said explaining why IAF had come out to counter allegations of the Congress about corruption and wrongdoing.

“Nonetheless, when we had defended the deal we were criticised for making a political statement. We were, however, defending the deal on merit, “ Dhanoa said.

“In December 2018, as the chief of air staff, I had welcomed the Supreme Court judgement on the original petition. I am happy the Supreme Court has stood by its earlier judgement,” he said.

The former air chief, who planned and executed the airstrikes on Balakote terror camp in Pakistan after the February suicide attack in Pulwama, said, “I sincerely hope it has laid to rest all controversy and will allow the IAF to do its duty and acquire new platforms that are required.”

The former IAF chief described the Rafale fighters as “superb” fighter.

“We must understand that the fighters are critical for India. Fighters squadrons are dropping and we cannot allow it to drop beyond 30 squadrons to put a credible deterrence,” he said.

“The two squadrons of Rafale, an additional Russian made Su-30 Mki and two more squadrons of indigenously made Light Combat Aircraft-Tejas will give the required muscle,” he added.

The Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on the review petitions on May 10. Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan were among those who had filed the review pleas.

In its arguments on May 10, the government argued that nowhere in the world do courts scrutinise agreements related to defence purchases and opposed the reopening of the Rafale case.

Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan had also sought perjury proceedings against the Centre for allegedly suppressing information. They claimed that the government misled the court ahead of its December 2018 verdict.

The petitioners accused the government of deliberately concealing crucial notings related to the deal. They maintained that this included a dissent note of three members of the Indian negotiating team, alleging that it vitiates the December 2018 verdict and necessitates a criminal inquiry into the matter.

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